Calgary Central Library

Architectural Details: The Snowflake and Cedar Façades of Calgary Central Library

This new architectural landmark plays a vital cultural role for the rapidly expanding city.

Eric Baldwin Eric Baldwin

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Libraries hold immense public value. As places of exchange that attract all ages, these buildings are where culture grows and thrives. Built as some of the last safe, free and truly public spaces, libraries bring people together. This is certainly the case with the new Calgary Central Library, designed by Snøhetta and DIALOG; the 240,000 SF project plays a vital role for the rapidly expanding city.

Calgary Central LibraryAs the region’s largest public investment since the 1988 Olympics, Calgary Central Library signals the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the city, one centered on the creation and innovation of knowledge and culture.

The design team worked with a variety of consultants to create the library’s iconic and dynamic triple-glazed façade and western red cedar entrance. Composed of a modular, hexagonal pattern, the façade is made of aggregated variations on the hexagon form across the building’s curved surface, featuring alternating panels of fritted glass and occasional iridescent aluminum.

Ground floor plan by Snøhetta

Calgary Library section

Section drawing by Snøhetta

The team explained that from these shapes emerge familiar forms, including “parts of the pattern might resemble an open book, snowflake-like linework, or interlocking houses, anchoring the ideas of the collective and community.”

The project’s triple pane glazing was made using Vitro Starphire with Solarban Low-E coatings, while the composite metal components are Alpolic panels with Valfron coatings. The team worked with Reckli for the precast panel formliner.

The façade of Calgary’s new Central Library includes more than 460 alternating polygonal panels of fritted glass and aluminum. The architects selected Hueck Trigon for the extrusions, and PPG Duranar coatings for the window frames and other extruded aluminum components.

Hydro Portland and Apel Extrusions of Calgary coated the finished metal in two PPG Duranar colors – standard Bright White and Broken Ice, a custom color topped by a pearlescent PPG Duranar clearcoat.

Calgary Central LibraryThe entire building volume is enclosed in the same pattern, allowing all sides to function as the “front” of the building. The crystalline geometry of the façade is carved away to reveal a wood archway that embraces visitors as they approach.

Framing the entrance of the building, the form references the Chinook cloud arches common to the region. Created entirely of planks of western red cedar from nearby British Columbia, the double-curved shell is one of the largest freeform timber shells in the world.

The team worked with StructureCraft for the wooden elements, including bending cedar pieces to test their capacity and geometrical tolerance. Custom algorithms were written to randomize the position of batten joints across the soffit, while respecting fabrication constraints such as the maximum overlap between panels.

A parametric 3D modelling approach allowed rule sets for the prefabricated panels and battens to be established and then automatically produce 3D models and fabrication information for each of the 170 panels.

Calgary Central LibraryInspired by the nearby foothills, the site is transformed into a terraced topography that rises up and over the existing Light Rail Transit Line crossing the site. The lifted library, with an open entry at the heart of the site, allows for a visual and pedestrian connection between East Village and Calgary’s downtown.

Organized on a spectrum of ‘Fun’ to ‘Serious,’ the library program locates the more lively public activities on the lower floors, gradually transitioning towards quieter, focused study areas on the upper levels as one spirals upwards.

Calgary Central LibraryThe new Calgary Central Library provides spaces for all types of people and activities, from social interaction and studying, to learning and introspection. At its heart, the design champions the civic function that libraries provide today, and in turn, creates a welcoming environment for gathering and exchange.

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Eric Baldwin Author: Eric Baldwin
Based in New York City, Eric was trained in both architecture and communications. As Director of Communications at Sasaki, he has a background spanning media, academia, and practice. He's deeply committed to trying as many restaurants as possible in NYC.
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